I would definitely recommend purchasing a Russian SIM card if you travel to Russia as it has a lot of benefits. In this blog post, I will tell you how to buy a Russian SIM card, describe the most interesting deals from the biggest Russian mobile service providers, as well as the benefits you obtain by having a Russian SIM card.
Why is it a good idea to acquire a Russian SIM card?
The first advantage is that you get mobile internet access. You can of course choose to use your own mobile deal through roaming, but it is usually quite expensive. Fortunately, it’s easy and cheap to get a Russian SIM card. You pay only for the deal that you choose and not for the subscription or the SIM card itself. I will list prices for different deals further down in this blog post.
The other advantage is that with a Russian SIM card you can use a number of local Russian services such as online taxi bookings, ordering take-out, parking, etc. Most of these services require that you confirm your order / registration via SMS. You can not use these services without a local Russian SIM card.
Please be aware that you can only access most public Wi-Fi with a Russian number! Even at airports.
It may therefore be worth investing in a Russian SIM card to make your stay in Russia easier.
The three largest Russian mobile providers
The three largest mobile providers in Russia are called “The Big Three”. They are called MTS, Megafon and BeeLine. There is no big difference between the services in “The Big Three” companies. The mobile and internet connection is the same, and the prices are also very similar. If you ask Russians about the difference, each person will tell you that one of the operators is better than the other two, but it’s usually a subjective opinion as the difference in reality is very small. Therefore, I recommend choosing an operator based on any discounts that they may have and which store you happen to pass by.
Where to buy a local Russian SIM card
“The Big Three” companies have their own physical stores throughout all the big cities. You can find at least three of them close to each metro station in Moscow and at airports. In addition, you will definitely find all 3 stores in every shopping mall. These stores not only sell mobile phones and SIM cards. You’ll also find ipads, chargers and headphones in these stores. In addition, the stores are also used for customer support and you will usually see at least 5 employees in a small store of 10 sqm. Even if you are approaching one of the employees, do not be intimidated if all 5 employees become involved in your purchase visit.
MTS has a lot of stores in every city. Their logo is an egg on a red background.
You can find their stores by using their search function here: http://en.mts.ru/coverage/offices/
Megafon is probably second in number of stores. Their color is green and the logo is a blue/green circle with three dots in the blue part where the green part represents a face.
BeeLine stores are becoming more and more rare, but can still be seen in the cityscape. The colors are yellow and black like a bee, and the logo is a circle with these colors.
Do not get scared off by a lack of customer service
You can easily buy a Russian SIM card as a tourist as long as you have your passport with you, but unfortunately, not all sellers are aware of this and unfortunately the customer service level in many Russian mobile companies is really low. You can therefore be rejected because the seller does not know about the procedure of selling a Russian SIM card to a tourist and is not interested in finding out how.
Do not spend time discussing with the sellers and simply jump over to one of the other stores.
Subscriptions and prices
This list of subscribers and prices has been made on 03.04.2018 and there may be changes as the mobile companies update their prices on a regular basis.
With MTS, you can create your own deal that fits your needs or choose one of their regular deals.
When you enter www.mts.ru/mob_connect/tariffs/ you can control 2 bars. On the top bar, choose how many minutes and the number of SMSs you want in your deal. On the bottom bar, choose how many GB data you want. The price is automatically updated on the right side.
In the example below, I have chosen a deal with 500 minutes, 500 sms and 12GB data for 570 RUB (9,91 USD) per month.
If you prefer to have one of the regular deals, you can choose from the options below.
Smart (500 RUB per month): 5GB data, free talk time to other MTC subscribers, 550 minute talk time to all mobiles in Russia, 550 sms
Smart Забугорище (1000 RUB per month): 7 GB data per week, free talk time to other MTC subscribers, 350 minute talk time to all mobiles in Russia per week, 350 sms per week, free use of social media. In addition, the sim card works both in Russia and abroad.
Smart mini (400 RUB per month): 2 GB data, free talk time to other MTC subscribers, 350 minute talk time to all mobiles in your area, 350 sms.
Smart Top (1950 RUB per month): 20 GB data, free talk time to other MTC subscribers, 3000 minute talk time to all mobiles in Russia, 3000 sms.
When you go to www.moscow.megafon.ru/tariffs/vklyuchaysya/, you can move around 3 parameters and view the best deal for your specific needs.
At the first parameter, you tell how often you call, where you can choose between rarely (Редко) and often (Часто).
By the second parameter, you tell which social media you use, where you choose between what is called “messengers” (Мессенджеры), which includes whatsapp, viber, facebook messenger and snapchat and the other option which is called ‘social media and messengers’ (Соцсети и мессенджеры), in addition to the already mentioned messenger apps, this also includes Instagram, Facebook and VK (Russian equivalent to Facebook).
At the third parameter, you choose whether you hear a lot of music or watch a lot of video. You can also select none of the items by selecting the first button with the three dots.
In the example below, I have chosen a subscription with 600 minutes and 15GB data for 600 RUB (10,43 USD) per month.
When you visit www.moskva.beeline.ru/customers/products/mobile/tariffs/cellphone/ you can view 5 different deals. Prices are on the right hand side and are per day (сутки).
BeeLine has a special feature where you can switch your talk time and/or text messages to data and vice versa.
The deal ВСЁмоё 2 contains, for example, 12 GB data, 500 minute talk time and 300 SMS for 600 RUB (10,43 USD) per month.
Once you get a Russian SIM card
You can insert your Russian SIM card into your smartphone and start using the mobile internet access right away without having to activate anything. You can ask the seller to insert the SIM card into your mobile to make sure everything is ok and works properly.
Do you have any questions on getting a Russian SIM card? Comments? Ideas for other topics/guides for my next blog post?
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